Last time, I wrote about Engaging Students in a Culture of Philanthropy by quoting from Brandeis University’s recently inaugurated President Frederick Lawrence: “you are a student here for four years; you are an alum for the rest of your life.” And, by quoting the University of Pennsylvania’s executive director of alumni relations Elise Betz: “it really isn’t just about giving … it’s about staying connected.”
My entire comments focused on why creating a Culture of Philanthropy is important, but not about how to accomplish this goal. Today, I want to share 3 concrete examples to consider. These are by no means the only ways, nor do I submit that they are necessarily the best ways, but they provide a good basis for ongoing discussion:
Create a Student Ambassador Program. There are many models of how this could work but the general idea is to create a program where students function as ‘ambassadors’ for the University with alumni in their hometowns, at donor events or other special events on campus, or even within the local off-campus community. Activities could include creating a ‘buddy system’ between students and their hometown’s alumni club president, attending events to talk about the student experience, or even interviewing alums. These programs help build leadership and interpersonal skills for your students and they help students understand the value of volunteering on behalf of the college.
Partner with Career Services or Student Activities to co-sponsor life-skills events for graduating seniors; and invite a few local alums to the event. Many schools are starting to offer ‘soft skills’ events to help graduating seniors adjust to life after college. Topics could include fine dining etiquette or renting your first apartment. Use the event as an opportunity to welcome students to their alumni association and network with alums. It’s a great way to engage alums, let your students know how they can stay connected to their college after graduation, and let them know that the college cares about their success even after they receive their degree.
Expand Senior Gift Programming to include all class years. The Culture of Philanthropy at your college should start the moment your first-years step onto your campus, if not even before! Most campuses have some type of giving program focused on graduating seniors. What about the rest of the students? Are their dollars less important? While the Culture of Philanthropy clearly involves more than just the dollars raised, understanding the importance of financially supporting your institution beyond tuition and fees is essential too. Perhaps for these younger classes the dollars themselves are less important than the opportunity to contribute to something larger than themselves. Try focusing on participation numbers or allowing each class to choose a specific project to support with their funds.
Be creative, think outside the box and connect! Your simple steps today could prove great in setting the stage for a generation of loyal, committed alums tomorrow.
What else is your campus doing to engage students? I’d love to hear from you at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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